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Dream Team

Summer pro league tryout draws mix of players with big hopes

July 03, 2002|ERIC STEPHENS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Awvee Storey has experienced the bright lights of big-time college basketball, playing at such famed arenas as Pauley Pavilion and McArthur Court, and traveling to storied Chapel Hill, N.C., and exotic Puerto Rico.

This week, Storey has been in an old, hot Long Beach gymnasium with more than 200 other players trying to keep alive a dream that has burned since childhood. Some, like Storey, have played at college basketball's highest level. Others played in Division III or NAIA where the lights aren't as bright. There's even some who dominated their recreation leagues and are taking the longest of shots at the ultimate dream--the NBA.

At the Summer Pro League's Super Camp, these players are trying out for spots in arguably the premier summer basketball league in the nation. Of the 200 or so players participating in the camp, about 25% are put on rosters, according to Eric Hamasaki, who oversees the league's day-to-day operation.

Those who make it will be viewed by dozens of scouts from the NBA and overseas when the league begins its 33rd season Sunday at the Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State. Decision day is today, when the camp ends after four days of skills tests and games.

"You'll find that for a lot of guys, they realize that maybe it's time to go out and get a real job," said Nick Colon, a camp director who is going to make some of those decisions. "Sometimes that is needed so a guy can move on. But you know, America is based on dreams."

The dream of pro basketball is why participants shelled out $305 to $340 for an opportunity that guarantees only that each player get an equal amount of playing time in three days of pro-style games with officials and coaches, and each player will receive a written and oral evaluation.

That opportunity attracted Wayne Heckaman, a 6-foot-9 center who played at NAIA Dickinson State in North Dakota. Heckaman, 23, made the 1,500-mile-plus trip by car. He was one of many players who came from outside California to attend the camp.

"I'm just trying to see if I can play with these guys," he said. "I want to see where I sit among these players. A friend of mine came out here last year and he wound up getting on a team in the league. I thought I might as well give it a shot."

John Younesi, who is the president of the Summer Pro League, said the camp is what sets his operation apart from other summer leagues that often are for only NBA players and prospects.

"There's no other league that has this," Younesi said. "If these guys are good enough, we'll put them on our free-agent teams. They'll get exposure by playing in front of scouts from every part of the world."

Storey is looking for just that. As a junior at Arizona State two years ago, the 6-6 Chicago native led the Pacific 10 Conference in rebounding. But after a disappointing senior season, he said he thought the camp would provide an opportunity to showcase his skills.

Though the games are often played at a helter-skelter pace, Storey stood out with his leaping ability around the basket. He said he would relish the chance to play anywhere.

"I wanted to see where I stood and find out whether I should continue playing or not," said Storey, 25. "I'm just trying to get my name out there. I'm all about opportunity."

For Brandon Payton, the camp provides exposure he believes he didn't receive in college. After a standout career at Concord De La Salle High, Payton, 22, played at UC Santa Barbara and Oregon State but didn't have a big impact at either school.

Payton, whose brother is All-Star guard Gary Payton, wants to join his sibling in the NBA.

He admitted that being in a tryout camp for a summer league isn't what he hoped for coming out of college. But that hasn't dimmed his enthusiasm.

"I figure the Lord is just making me work that much harder to achieve my dream," he said. "All this is positive for me."

Colon, an assistant coach at Sacramento State, said opportunities to play overseas have never been better. Though it's doubtful any of the players at the camp will ever make an NBA roster, some could find their way to leagues in Europe or Asia.

"Some guys are not realistic," he said. "But many guys find out that they might not be good enough to play in the NBA but good enough to play overseas. In some of the better leagues, you can make about $400,000 a year.

"A lot of Americans play in Russia. Who would have thought that would happen?"

Carl Holman is fulfilling a dream that he abandoned more than 20 years ago. After years of drug abuse and stints in California state prisons, he said he is clean and back playing the game he loves.

At 39, he thought it was worth it to make a last-ditch effort to play with the pros.

"I'm in the best shape of my life and I'm having a ball," Holman said. "I should have been doing this years ago. Who knows? I can give the Lakers another year or two if they need me."

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